Why do documentary film crews so often record their subjects getting up in the morning? It seems like the most awkward wake-up call imaginable.

Among the seven protagonists of The Calling, a two-part PBS documentary premiering tonight, we get a rare chance to compare and contrast the ways that young religious leaders from the three "Abrahamic" faiths make their breakfast and brush their teeth. I guess they want to show these aspiring Jewish, Christian, and Muslim clergy starting their days Just Like Us, but I don't know if they succeed. My first thought upon waking is rarely "Hello, America."

Nevertheless, this four-hour documentary is tightly structured and pretty engaging. The Calling manages to stitch together simultaneous coming-of-age stories from a Catholic priest, two Modern Orthodox rabbis, two Muslim chaplains, a Presbyterian youth minister, and an African Methodist Episcopal (AME) pastor. (We never see them meet, let alone walk into a bar together. Alas.) The four directors (one each for the Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, and Muslim portions) spent about a year with their subjects, giving us a clear sense of each personality and inviting us to empathize with their struggles and rejoice in their victories.

So how do you measure a year in the life of young monotheists? In yeshiva classes, in ordinations, in Arabic lessons, in unsolicited post-sermon critiques by middle-aged congregants? The Calling chooses to focus on relationships, showing us how its seven subjects balance their calling with the demands of family, community, and the wider culture.

Finding balance

One of the biggest challenges for these young men and women is finding the balance between calling and family. The film parallels the journeys of Jeneen, an ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.